The Lineup lost its last shred of credibility this week — I think I used this lead a few weeks ago but I’m going to use it again — with their selection for New York baseball’s greatest all-time pitcher. Not with the selection of Mariano Rivera as best closer — thankfully no one embarrassed themselves by making a case for anyone else. (Even Sparky Lyle led off his vote with “It’s got to be Mariano Rivera.”)
The vote for best starting pitcher, though, was a debacle of bad reasoning. The candidates were Tom Seaver, Christy Mathewson, Dwight Gooden and Whitey Ford. This is idiotic: the New York Giants’ Carl Hubbell won 253 games in his career and by any yardstick was a far superior pitcher to Dwight Gooden. Mathewson ended up winning the title because he got three of the five votes (Sparky Lyle, Steve Hirdt and Fran Healy) with Will Leitch and Gary Carter taking Gooden, who should not have even been in the competition.
Gary Carter is a noodlebrain who doesn’t belong on any show that requires analysis about baseball. Leitch, who doesn’t seem to know anything about baseball before he was 12 years old, gushed about how he saw Doc Gooden when he was a kid and how he was “so dominant.” Carter merely seconded Leitch’s motion; in any event, Carter was Gooden’s teammate and catcher, so isn’t that a conflict of interest?
Fellows, let’s talk about dominance. Gooden had one great year, 1985, and it was one of the greatest seasons ever by a major league pitcher. He led the league with 24 wins, losing only four, and also lead the NL in complete games (16), innings pitched (276), strikeouts (266), and ERA (1.53). He pitched on and off for the next 16 seasons, and was, at times, outstanding, but he never had another great season. The only other thing he ever led the league in was won-lost percentage, .682, in 1987. In fact, aside from 1985 he never won as many as 20 games or had an ERA lower than 2.60.
Tom Seaver, on the other hand, won 311 games in 20 seasons (to Gooden’s 194), had a career ERA of 2.86 (to Gooden’s 3.51), led the NL in victories and win-loss percentage three times, strikeouts five times, and ERA three times. To Leitch and Carter: Is that dominant enough for you? He completed 231 of his starts to Gooden’s 68; is that dominant enough?
As for the Seaver-Mathewson debate, Steve Hirdt did mention that he was torn between the two — as well he should be, since Mathewson won 373 games. But as Bill James put it in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (you’ll find a quote from me on the cover of the paperback edition which reads “The most important baseball book of the last twenty years”) “There is actually a good argument that Tom Seaver should be regarded as the greatest pitcher of all time … Seaver pitched for eight losing teams, several of them really terrible, and four other teams which had losing records except when Seaver was on the mound.” (James ranked Seaver sixth among all-time pitchers, slightly ahead of Mathewson.)
It’s amazing how the memory of Seaver’s greatness has faded in New York over the last 20 years. Pitchers whose accomplishments are anywhere near Seaver’s might have been expected to have gained in reputation from having pitched 12 seasons under the scrutiny of New York baseball writers. Seaver’s seems to have suffered.
Dwight Gooden over Tom Seaver? Are they serious? Gooden had one season better than any of Seaver’s; Seaver had at least nine seasons better than any other by Gooden. Next week they do managers. Gosh, think Casey Stengel has a shot?